Tiger Pataudi was straightforward and had the innate ability to spot talent
It was fashionable to bat at number five in the 60s and 70s because Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi occupied that slot. It was also fashionable to ape him. Such was the fascination to be a Pataudi that one came across kids batting ‘one-eyed' in neighbourhood cricket. He was a role model to countless budding cricketers.
It was his leadership that placed Pataudi in a special category. He was a captain who knew his job and a batsman who understood his responsibilities. His teammates, young and seniors both, stood in awe of the man. Aunshuman Gaekwad, at 56, and Sandeep Patil, at 53, would stamp out their cigarettes at the very sight of him. He commanded such respect.
Once, Rajinder Goel, well past 60, was sitting in the last row, hidden by people standing in front. When Pataudi rose to speak, so did Goel.
“Goel saab, remain seated! Tiger can't even see you,” I whispered. “No. He is my captain,” replied Goel with humility. Such was the awe in which Pataudi was held by his colleagues.
Pataudi had an eye to spot talent. Mohinder Amarnath and G.R. Viswanath made their international debut in 1969 under his captaincy and developed into great cricketers mainly due to the faith that their first captain reposed in them.
“I was raw. And I was in awe of Tiger. I had played in the Moin-ud-Dowla tournament (in Hyderabad) with him but it was different in international cricket. He had encouraging words for me.
“He was very straightforward and told the players that he expected them to know their job. I think his background and his experience of playing and studying in England made the difference,” says Mohinder.
Tiger may have lost an eye in an accident but not his flair and prowess to dominate. Colin Bland was a legendary fielder in South Africa in the 1960s. In modern era, Jonty Rhodes came to symbolise athleticism on the field. Covers and cover-point was their domain. Pataudi was no less.
He was exceptionally swift and amazingly positioned to cut off certain boundaries. “His anticipation was breathtaking,” Chandu Borde would tell us.
Viswanath had this to share. He sat in a corner of the dressing room, morose, having got out for a zero on Test debut at Kanpur against Australia (1969). He feared he would be axed from the team, or demoted in the batting order. But Pataudi assured him. “He told me I was playing all the matches,” Viswanath remembers. He crafted 137 in the second innings and built a remarkable career, thanks to Pataudi's foresight and confidence in the 20-year-old Karnataka genius.
His passion for the game was unmatched. “He did not believe in physical fitness but he was as good as any athlete. We saw a fielder sliding for the first time ever (in the 60s) and that was Tiger. And he did it so effortlessly,” remembered Mohinder.
Pataudi was also a much-misunderstood man. “People said he was reserved. Maybe he was to some extent. He was strict but he had a subtle sense of humour and could pull off practical jokes with a straight face.
“His presence made lot of difference in the dressing room. Such players come rare. In the 60s and early 70s, we only talked of Pataudi. We wanted to bat like him, field like him, and lead like him. We wanted to be Pataudi,” said Mohinder.
Agreed Wadekar. “We enjoyed stories about us not being on talking terms. Tiger remained a good friend even though we hardly met (in recent times). I last met him in 2007 (at Lord's). We had a great time, remembering the old days.
“I played Test cricket because he agreed to include me. He also gave me the number three slot. He was very understanding when it came to reading his colleagues. When I became captain, I called him to say sorry. He just laughed it off. Later, he played under my captaincy. He was a fabulous cricketer.”
Tiger was regal on and off the field. Indian cricket will not be the same without Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, a fascinating batsman, an inspiring leader and an astute analyst.